Skip to main content
Category

Valentines day

Did Cupid ever grow up?

By Cupid, Elevenses, Talking art, Valentines day

When you think of Cupid, what do you think of? A cute toddler with wings and a bow and arrow? That’s definitely the image I conjure of him, which begs the question, did Cupid not actually grow up?

If you take this glorious image by Titian and look closely at Venus’s face, she might have been a little worried too.

Worship of Venus Titian

Titian, The Worship of Venus, 1518, Prado, Madrid

Detail of Venus from Worship of Venus for Alfonso d'Este

Detail from Titian’s Worship of Venus, 1518, Prado

There is a story within Greek mythology in which Venus complains to Themis that her son is really cute but he’s never left the toddler stage and she’s worried.

So Themis has a moment of contemplation and says you know, I think he’s not growing up because he’s always alone – get him a companion and they’ll grow together.

Venus has another baby, Anteros, the god of requited love, and as soon as Cupid, or Eros to give him his Greek name, saw his brother, he grew. Unfortunately, as soon as he was separated from Anteros, he reverted back to a toddler.

What’s the moral of the story? In order to grow, love needs to be reciprocated.

They made quite a good little team – Cupid maintained the task of hurling his arrows to ignite passion and Anteros protected those who found a love match. Here they are in this tondo with Eros forging arrows in a fire on the right and Anteros stoking the flames with his bellows on the left. Sweet.

Eros and Anteros Gods of Love and Requited Love

Unknown artist, Eros and Anteros, tondo in courtyard of the Villa Salviati, Florence, Italy

Of course, however, they also had brotherly spats.

In this fresco from the Casa dell’ Amore punito, literally translated as the House of Love Punished, in Pompeii, Peithò (Greek goddess of persuasion and oratory) is leading Cupid/Eros in on the left to be told off by his mother, Venus, for firing his arrow at the wrong target. Peithò looks encouraging but I think Cupid has seen the look on his Mother’s face! Behind Venus, Anteros is delighted that Cupid’s in trouble. It’s nice to know that there’s something normal about this pair.

Eros and Anteros House of Love Punished Pompeii

Wall painting in the House of Love Punished, Pompeii, 1st century AD, Archaeological Museum, Naples

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Be my Valentine? No way, you’re in the Tower of London!

By Art Tours, Elevenses, Valentines day

The first known Valentine was sent from prison and involves a tale of royal in-fighting, warfare and imprisonment in the Tower of London.

The ‘valentine’ itself wasn’t a card but a few lines in a poem, written by Charles, the Duke of Orléans, in 1415, when he was 21 years old. Charles was caught in the crossfire of a fight for the control of France between his father, Louis I, who presided over the House of Orléans, and his uncle’s family which oversaw the House of Burgundy. His uncle also happened to be ‘mad’ Charles VI of France. When Charles Duke of Orléans was captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he was held as a pawn by the Burgundians in the Tower of London and wrote his wife a letter from his cell that included the lines:

‘God forgives him who has estranged / Me from you for the whole year. / I am already sick of love, / My very gentle Valentine.’

Charles I Duke of Orleans Golden Fleece

Unknown artist, Miniature from Statutes, Ordonnances and armorial of the Order of the Golden Fleece, 1473, Gerard Collection

Charles writing a Valentine from the Tower of London

Unknown artist, Charles of Orleans in the Tower of London, Book of Poetry of Charles d’Orleans, 15th century, Royal MS 16 F II, British Library

OK, this might not look like a dank and dingy cell in this image, but here is Charles writing his letter, over on the right side of the picture at a table under the archway. I’m thinking that the artist has taken a liberty with the actual architecture of the Tower of London to allow us a peek inside, not to mention the tiny walls, but is that Tower Bridge in the background? I think it is! There were houses on it in the early 15th century, as this fantastic model created in 1987 by David T Aggett, a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers shows. Photo credit the Londonist.

Old London Bridge

Back to Charles who is also at the window in the centre of the composition, and then featured again outside giving his masterpiece to a courier to take to his wife, who by the way he was never to see again. He was held prisoner for 25 years, and she died before he was released.

Another early adopter of the term ‘Valentine’ was Margery Brews who wrote to her one true love in February 1477 pleading with him not to leave her over her underwhelming dowry! They do get married, you’ll be happy to hear, and Margery has gone down in history as the first person to write a Valentines note in English.

Margery Brews first Valentine note in English

Margery Brews, The Paston Letters, February 1477, Add MS 43490, f.24r, British Library

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

St Valentine. Or should I say St Valentines?

By Art Tours, Elevenses, Talking art, Valentines day

Early depictions of St Valentine show him humbly submitting to having his head chopped off. Not terribly romantic but he wasn’t associated with romance back then, he was basically a martyr who happened to have performed a miracle or two.

St Valentine martyred Queen Mary Psalter

The Queen Mary Psalter, 1310-20, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 243r, British Library

It was only in 1375 when Chaucer’s poem ‘Parliament of Fowls’ was published that a link was forged between St Valentine and romance. The link comes from the lines

‘Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,’

Apparently birds went out to find their mates on February 14 so why shouldn’t unmarried boys and girls should do the same?

But if St Valentine wasn’t originally the patron saint of hearts and flowers, who was he?

That’s a moot point. There are two contenders:

Contender 1 is the 3rd century Bishop of Terni, Narnia and Amelia. Yes! There is a real place called Narnia, it’s a hilltop town in Umbria. C S Lewis loved the name and used it for the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Placed under house arrest with a local judge because of his faith, the Bishop proves a point by restoring sight to his captors blind daughter. The judge converts, releases loads of Christians from prison and of course allows his excellency to roam free to carry on preaching, whereupon he becomes a nuisance and is sent to Rome to repent or get bludgeoned and beheaded. Instead of repenting he tries to convert Emperor Claudius II, which leads to his head getting chopped off.

St Valentine from the Unknown artist, Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples, 14th century, Lives of Saints, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

Unknown artist, Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples, 14th century, Lives of the Saints, (Codex: Français 185, Fol. 210), Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

St Valentine the priest in Nuremberg Chronicle

Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, St Valentine, Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

Contender 2 wasn’t a Bishop but a priest. The story here goes that St. Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and aiding Christians being persecuted by Claudius II in Rome. According to legend, while in prison Valentinus fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer and guess what? He restored her sight and all the jailors converted so he was given the option to repent and renounce his faith or get bludgeoned and beheaded.

I’m not the only one who thinks these stories are rather similar, especially because both Valentines were reported to be buried in the same place in the north of Rome. There’s no official ruling on whether they were the same person or not and in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from the General Roman Calendar, because so little is known about him. Luckily the church still recognizes him as a saint.

Good job he's the patron saint of epileptics, beekeepers and lovers

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Whip me into a pre Valentine frenzy

By Elevenses, Lupercalia, Valentines day

I love Greek  mythology and was intrigued that the story of Zeus and Lycaon may have led to the Roman festival of Lupercalia which took place on 15 February and was subsequently, and according to some sources, intentionally, eclipsed by Valentine’s Day.

The brief story of Zeus and Lycaon is that the latter served the God roast kid – as in child, not goat, for dinner to test his omnipotence. He should have known better because Zeus then turned him into a wolf. The legend led to an initiation ritual for young men; heaven knows what went on but it was enough to leave archaeological evidence.

Joining in the Lupercalia with a Hayo'u Tapper!

Joining in the Lupercalia with my Hayo’u tapper. Not quite goat’s hide; actually not even similar!

Goltzius, Zeus turning Lycaon into a Wolf for serving him a roasted child

Hendrik Goltzius, Zeus and Lycaon from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, 1589

She-wolf symbol of Rome with Romulus and Remus

Etruscan /Antonio PollaiuoloLa Lupa Capitolina, 5th century BC and 15th century AD, Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy

Jump from Greece to Italy and the idea of the Roman holiday of Lupercalia is born – and I haven’t just made a random connection, Livy and Plutarch and various other ancient philosophers and poets write about the fact that the Lupercalia has its roots in Greece.

The Lupercalia was centred around the cave in which Romulus and Remus were supposed to have suckled the she-wolf. Did you know that the famous Capitaline she-wolf sculpture is half Etruscan, from the 5th century BC, half early Renaissance because the figures of Romulus and Remus were added in the 15th century, possibly by Antonio Pollaiuolo? It amuses me that ‘Pollaiuolo’ means the son of a chicken farmer. I suppose the she-wolf was too busy to worry about chickens.

Back to the Lupercalia festival which was, as my grandma used to say, a ‘bit of a do’. It involved young boys running through streets in loincloths, although there is an argument to say that they didn’t even wear those, whipping women with the hide of a newly sacrificed goat. Pregnant women thought it would give them a healthy baby so they were completely up for it.

Then, as with many things, it started to get out of hand and was no longer the fun it once was. Step up the martyrdom of St Valentine on 14 February to distract and divert attention away from Lupercalia and towards Valentine’s Day. I think we can say that’s a win for the church!

As I always strive for accuracy, it should be pointed out that this is one hypothesis as to why the celebration of Valentine’s Day became more widespread, and there are almost certainly other factors at play.

Youths whipping women for the ancient festival of Lupercalia

Andrea Camassei, Lupercalia, 1635, Prado, Madrid

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

The Elevenses blog – February Valentine’s Greetings!

By Elevenses, Lupercalia, Talking art, Valentines day

In an effort to be more cohesive in my hitherto fun but scattergun approach, I’ve decided to work on a theme a month for my weekly Elevenses. This means that I can plan in advance, advertise what’s coming up and take the opportunity to use the material for my blog. Project Edutainment (I must find it a proper title!) isn’t forgotten; this is all about making space in my brain and diary to concentrate on the bigger picture.

So, the obvious theme for February is St Valentine. Being me, however, I wanted to do more than scratch the surface. Did you know that there is a possible connection between Greek mythology and Valentine’s Day? I had to verify the article that introduced me to this idea with a good delve into ancient Greek and Roman sources to be sure my facts were correct, and indeed both Plutarch and Livy were happy to confirm this link. Who knew? With some Greek mythology and stories of young men running amok in the streets written about for week 1, clearly the mysterious St Valentine himself had to be addressed. The Catholic Online website is absolutely sure that I’m a curious catholic nibbling around the edges of what they have to offer as I do tend to visit quite often just to get an overview before I invariably head off on another tangent. My tangent this time was the first recorded Valentine’s Day greetings. What I absolutely love about art history is that there are always connections to be made. This one is between ‘Mad Charles VI’ of France of Bal des Ardents fame, and the first ever Valentine written. The discovery made me so happy, as did writing about Cupid. The Valentine offering per se, as in the episode nearest to Valentine’s Day, is all about an aspect of this cheeky chappie that is rarely discussed. Of course it is! Welcome to the Elevenses blog!

I’ll up date the page after each Elevenses with Lynne to reflect the episode. I hope you enjoy it.